A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by members of imprisoned evangelist Tony Alamo‘s Christian Ministries, claiming an Arkansas agency infringed upon their religious rights in seizing children from their compound in 2008.
The 8th U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis said U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes was right to dismiss the suit, which alleged violations of the ministry’s constitutional rights, because the suit would have interfered with state proceedings that at the time were still ongoing.
At least 36 children were removed from the ministry’s compound in Fouke and placed in foster care. Officials with the state Department of Human Services said the children were the victims of physical and sexual abuse, including forced marriages between underage children and adults.
Alamo was sentenced in November 2009 to 175 years in prison on charges that included taking minors across state lines for sex.
The ministry and two church members, Albert Ralph Krantz and Gregory Scott Seago, filed a lawsuit alleging that DHS officials violated their constitutional rights, including their First Amendment right to freedom of religious expression and their Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.
Barnes dismissed the suit in February 2010. The ministry, but not the individual plaintiffs, filed an appeal, and on Wednesday a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit said it agreed with Barnes’ ruling.
The appeals court said the U.S. Supreme Court has established, in its 1971 ruling in Younger v. Harris, that federal courts must abstain from considering any civil claims brought by plaintiffs who are being prosecuted at the state level for matters related to their claims.